hiveonline is a digital platform that builds financial trust. This young start-up works with NGOs, merchants and microfinance institutions to help support small business ecosystems. The goal is to help communities grow by giving them access to credit and markets. We spoke with Sofie Blakstad, CEO and founder of hiveonline, about her initiative and the role of blockchain technology.
Challenge - Credit is expensive
Sofie Blakstad has had extensive experience of working within international banks, but she noticed an injustice: “Microbusinesses make up half of the world economy, yet everything is expensive to them and it is difficult for small entrepreneurs to borrow credit.” Microbusinesses are companies with less than 10 employees and most commercial activity in Africa falls within this category. “Africa has the highest proportion of microbusinesses, the highest unbanked population on the planet, and the fastest growing population. So there is a lot of opportunity; to us it is very clear that this is where you need to be if you want to grow in business”, Sofie Blakstad reveals.
Solution - A reputation-based platform
hiveonline connects savings groups and microbusinesses to the financial system in order to reduce borrowing costs and risks of lending. Through hiveonline, borrowers digitally record lending and repayment transactions on the blockchain. As these build up, the borrowers build their reputation and creditworthiness, on both a group and individual-member level. Their score, which is based on their financial behaviour, can then be shared with prospective lenders. “The platform is based on reputation, on what people do, so that it becomes clear that these are valid entrepreneurs with valid businesses who meet their commitments, be it financial or other”, Sofie Blakstad adds.
hiveonline looked at blockchain technology as an enabler to help communities. “We considered blockchain for reducing the dependency on traditional financial providers (mobile money and banks)”, Sofie Blakstad explains. “As it allows for a peer-to-peer mobile money service, this would undercut very expensive money services. We have created an offline mode for people with little access to the internet; it’s designed to be easy to use for people with little technology background and/or who are illiterate. The web app works on any device that could work with a browser and it’s compatible with the new KaiOS Operating system, which can make a feature phone almost work like a smart phone.”
The system starts with physical cash boxes, followed by an introduction to digital cash. “We start by getting groups familiar with accounting and building their reputation”, says Sofie Blakstad. “We then introduce digital lending services from microfinance businesses and banks.” hiveonline currently works with Village Savings and Loan Associations where an appointed secretary records all of the transactions. All members have a digital wallet, and members c manage their own wallets in the future.
hiveonline uses Stellar, a blockchain with an open-source decentralised payment protocol. “Stellar is often used in microfinancing as it allows for high volume against low transaction costs”, Sofie Blakstad explains. “Stellar is great in places with little internet access but is also trusted by a few banks. The structure is very rigorously controlled in terms of price, it is not so volatile. We built a stablecoin that maintains the same value as the local currency. Furthermore, we created two tokens; a lending and share token. As the value of the fund grows over time, they [savers] get back a proportionate amount at the end of the cycle.”
Word of advice
What does Sofie Blakstad say to other entrepreneurs looking to develop blockchain based solutions? “You should really know your customers well; don’t try to impose solutions. Solutions should be designed from the ground up and address the needs of your customers first. Recognise that blockchain is a very rapidly-moving technology and acknowledge that better opportunities may come along.”
“We conduct research into how technology such as blockchain can help shift capital markets to better cash flows in developing economies”, Sofie Blakstad concludes. “Our main plans now involve expanding the team to support new customers”. Established in Niger, hiveonline is now working on plans to expand into Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tanzania.
This article is one of a series of case studies on blockchain applications in agriculture undertaken by Wageningen University and Research on behalf of CTA. See the rest of the collection at https://www.cta.int/en/blockchain.